Keuka College Student Pursues New Ways to Treat Parkinson’s Disease Through Virtual Reality

Kaylie DeSorbo ’22 shared her findings at a national conference of occupational therapy professionals in San Antonio.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

During its brief existence, Virtual Reality has been largely the domain of games and interactive entertainment. But Keuka College senior Kaylie DeSorbo sees an entirely different application for the technology: improving life for people who have Parkinson’s Disease.

The Occupational Therapy major spent several days this month sharing her ideas with some of the thousands of professionals who attended the American Occupational Therapy Association’s INSPIRE 2022 Annual Conference & Expo in San Antonio.

Kaylie was invited to present her poster at the conference because of the strength of her submission, “Virtual Reality Intervention for Individuals with Parkinson’s Disease.” She spent more than a year researching the topic with former Keuka College Associate Professor of Occupational Therapy Dr. Sunny Winstead. The results were then presented on a poster that Kaylie created and used to illustrate her presentations at the conference.

“It was a great experience,” Kaylie said of the March 31-April 3 conference, at which she not only presented but networked. “I met a lot of very interesting people, some I hope to continue to stay in touch with and reach out to in the future.”

Promising Research

Kaylie’s literature review is cause for optimism for anyone diagnosed with Parkinson’s, the neurological disorder that progressively affects movement.

“There has been strong evidence for motor symptoms improving in persons with Parkinson’s Disease – skills like walking or balancing,” said Kaylie. “However, OT looks at motor and non-motor factors.  Non-motor factors would include cognitive and psycho-social areas. OT is unique in that we do both, so I wanted to tie that in and show that there’s a lot of promise for OTs addressing non-motor factors.”

She said the reaction from the 100 or so attendees she spoke with was both positive and encouraging.

“I explained my findings and how we can use them in the field going forward, and it was received very well,” she said. “And there were some great suggestions. One person who works in end-of-life care thought we could use Virtual Reality to bring their patient back to a happier time; to enjoy one last memory while in hospice.”

Kaylie’s poster is both engaging and thorough.

“It outlines pretty much everything I did – the background on everything, what I found, and then how we can apply it to OT in the future,” explained Kaylie, whose poster represents an in-depth literature review.

She said she had to submit an abstract and application forms to AOTA officials as a part of the peer-review process, but once the poster was green-lighted, she was on her own.

“You submit it and they evaluate it based on if there’s a need for that subject,” she said. “And they give you some constructive criticism. And then, you’re kind of on your own to do the poster yourself; they don’t check up on you or anything like that. You just present it.”

An Inspiring Experience

The presentation earned raves from Assistant Professor of Occupational Therapy Dr. Kristen Bacon, who also attended the conference.

“Kaylie knocked it out of the park,” said Dr. Bacon, who chairs the College’s Division of Applied Health and Wellness. “She represented Keuka College and the OT profession with poise and professionalism. Her determination and hard work have paid off and I’m sure this experience has given her confidence and taught her the value that scholarship has for the occupational therapy profession.”

Kaylie said that was just one of the lessons she took home from the conference.

“I learned that there’s a lot more out there that I need to learn,” she said. “But it was very inspiring. It made me even more solid about my career choice.”

Kaylie’s poster will be on display for the remainder of the semester on the second floor of Hegeman Hall.

“The Division of Applied Health and Wellness is extremely proud of Kaylie and her accomplishments,” said Dr. Bacon.

If, like Kaylie, you’re inspired by the idea of exploring new ways to help others, Keuka College’s Occupational Therapy program offers a wealth of opportunities to do so. Visit us online to learn how our Occupational Therapy degree will give you the tools to build a career centered on improving the lives of others.